Saunders’ broker Ed Bruehl is a straight shooter when it comes to answering your questions about the Hamptons real estate market. He tells THE DAILY about his unconventional and refreshing approach to navigating buying and selling in one of the world’s most desirable locations.
How did you end up in real estate?
I originally was on Wall Street, and we came out here to get [my wife] Mariah to start a private school here. I loved selling stocks and bonds, but there’s nothing like selling land. It was way easier to wrap my arms around my love of land. I’ve become an absolute land freak. I do believe it’s about the love of land here. Everyone thinks it’s about the rich people and fancy houses and lifestyle, but I totally disagree. It’s about the light, the land, and the ocean. Those are the three things people come for and the rest is the result of those things.
What has been the biggest change in the market this past year?
Before COVID, we were a little stale. After the Clinton/Trump election and even going into it, there was a lot of fear and anxiety in the market. When Trump won, a majority of the people who live in my world were uncomfortable and they weren’t active. It hurt us. People forget about those two or three years. We were flat. People still rented and bought houses, but we weren’t appreciating. The market doesn’t go down here. When COVID hit, people wanted out of the city and couples moved out. Instead of renting a $100,000-a-year house, the same house is worth $200,000 post-COVID. There is low inventory. People wish they had bought something two years ago. The market has blown up. Everything has a bidding war on it. Only the good buyers are getting stuff. Is it softening? No!
Has it been fun for you?
I love it. I love what I do. I found joy in serving families who want to live out here. People do what I did after 9/11—come here, land, get situated, and build. What I didn’t love is some of the hard-core dugin NIMBYs, who have driven local politics here for the past 10, 20, 30 years. As a result of this exodus from the city and influx of new folks, we have new blood looking at new problems with new eyes. That’s massive for me. When I came, I was outnumbered. “You can’t do that, you can’t do this.” Those are the rules. Why can’t we have dining on the outside sidewalks in the villages? Now the place is packed and can’t we ask? Why can’t we get more out of our community? I feel like there’s new blood in the community that cares not just about the summer. That’s massive!
Do you think Hamptons homeowners should sell now?
You should never sell Hamptons real estate. The only mistake I’ve made as a broker for my clients and customers is suggesting they sell. It’s an appreciating asset with an abnormally high rental income— abnormally high, not just locally, globally. It’s ridiculous. Who ever gets $200,000 for a year-round four-bedroom okay rental house? It’s silly! But there’s no real quality inventory out here to rent. I say turn it into an LLC, get a caretaker, and rent it! Buy a house as your primary with that as an investment in your portfolio. It works over and over.
What areas are great for a long-term investment?
That’s a hamlet question. Sag Harbor and Montauk have overappreciated in the past few years. Now with the COVID premium, they didn’t perform as well as East Hampton and Southampton village, which were kind of overlooked as Sag Harbor and Montauk were on a tear. The demand for East Hampton as a hamlet is the highest of any rental hamlet in the Hamptons. North West Woods is another example of an area with value. People have kids, they want an acre, they want more privacy. It’s a sweet spot.
Is it still possible to get a decent rental in June?
There’s always ways to get a fair rental, but I do think the brokerages have been matched by Airbnb and Vrbo. If you’re looking for a full-summer rental, you have to be selective and work at it. If you’re looking for a few weekends, Airbnb and Vrbo are terrific. There are tons of people out here who don’t want to rent out their place for the full summer, but they’ll give it up for a few weeks. Those listings come on quite regularly. Stay actively looking.
What’s the best advice you have for a first-time buyer?
The average mistake of the first-time home buyer is thinking you have to have all your ducks lined up before you bid. They wait on opportunities, thinking they need to spend those six or seven weeks with their bankers getting their ducks in a row, and that’s not how most investors or savvy buyers do it. They just bid. They’ll go out and see six houses. They like two houses, they bid on two of them. It takes time to get the contract out, weeks to get the appraisal, inspection. Most people miss a deal they want when they should have been bidding. We’re not asking people to lie and be a $1 million buyer when they aren’t. You know what you are. Most first-time home buyers are way more solid than they think they are. Is there a good time of year to buy in the Hamptons? When you’re ready to buy! Don’t let the market dictate. In the past, there maybe weren’t transactions in November and December, but the bonus money comes out in February and March. People want to be ready by May so they can enjoy the summer. That was the old theory. It probably still holds, but I never really bought it. There’s always a good time to buy, and it’s when you’re hustling. If you’re waiting for that good time, you’re better off just paying attention to the market with a good broker. Commit to a good broker. Get to know every listing in your price range. The good time is when you’ve given it the time.
What do you think it’s like to work with you?
It’s fun! I’m super transparent. It’s a lot of work buying a house. You have to do your half of the deal. It’s not just, Ed’s going to show you five houses and you’ll buy one of them. That ship has so sailed! The people I work with know what they want. They’re super smart. They don’t know real estate like I do, but they know markets and math.
What do you personally love about the area?
The land! I was always attracted to exurbias when I learned what that word meant. I wasn’t a suburb guy; I loved living in the city. But when we came to where we were going to raise our kids, I wanted to be beyond the suburbs to some special place that had better surfing, better hiking, better golf. We wanted to get past the suburbs, and we did. It has this special vibe. Long beach walks with my wife, who is now the founder of Playful Learning Studio in East Hampton, are heaven.
Do you have a favorite spot out East?
It depends on what we’re doing. I love to watch the sun set. If you go to Indian Wells and you walk west, there’s nobody there. It’s the craziest thing ever. You can go for an hour one way and an hour the other way and see eight people. Stand up paddling in Cedar Point is Pirates of the Caribbean cool! It’s picture perfect! People think the Hamptons is overcrowded! Get out of the car!